The ongoing apparent collapse of the Brexiteers is almost beyond belief.
Today’s Sunday Times reports that even members of the European Research Group of committed Brexiteers are falling like ninepins. Apparently they are gibbering that if they don’t vote for Mrs May’s deal on her third attempt to force it through parliament, there will be no Brexit at all.
What on earth are they talking about? If they vote for Mrs May’s deal they will be voting for Brexit in name only, a meaningless Brexit, a paper exit from the EU as a result of which the UK will be left at the EU’s mercy.
Have they all forgotten what not just they but also the Remainers all said about Mrs May’s deal: that it was simply unthinkable? That it would leave the UK far worse off than it is at present, because it would remain bound by EU rules while having no say over them at all?
If Mrs May’s deal was unthinkable then, why is it suddenly the least worst option now? Are we now supposed to believe that what they all told us then was untrue?
Matthew Elliott –– Matthew Elliott! –– one of the architects of the Leave campaign, is now saying MPs should vote for this unthinkable deal. He writes in the Sunday Times:
“If MPs vote down the withdrawal agreement for a third time this week, Brexit probably won’t happen. But if MPs do allow the vote to pass, we will leave in a matter of weeks . . . We will be free from the EU’s political institutions by the summer”.
But under Mrs May’s deal, the UK won’t be free from the EU. It will remain under its thumb for the duration of the transition period, subject to whatever laws or restrictions or punishments the EU may devise and subject also to rulings by the ECJ.
Elliott writes: “We can then begin negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU, enabling us to take the second step of Brexit at the end of 2020”.
But one of the terrible aspects of Mrs May’s deal is that, leaving us under the EU’s thumb and having been accepted by the British as a sign of profound weakness, it would give the UK no negotiating clout whatsoever in the crucial trade deal that would follow. And Mrs May’s terms furthermore commit the UK to framing any eventual deal in the context of some kind of customs union ie still remaining under the EU thumb.
The only sensible negotiating position for the UK in such a future deal, the only way it would be able to secure a trade deal on its own terms is to have left the EU with no deal. The EU has so much to lose from an independent UK, it would be then forced into those negotiations onto the back foot as a supplicant. Mrs May’s deal instead puts the UK onto the back foot as a supplicant. That is one reason why her deal is absolutely against the UK’s interests.
Elliott writes: “We will have to significantly improve our statesmanship in the next negotiations to avoid the dreaded backstop”.
In the light of what the backstop represents, the fatuity of this sentence is mind-numbing. The backstop is rightly “dreaded” because it gives away UK sovereignty over part of the nation, turning Northern Ireland into a potential hostage in the EU’s attempt to force the UK into some kind of permanent customs union. Yet Elliott brushes this aside with the airy hope that “we will have to significantly improve our statesmanship”. What? This is supposed to be a serious suggestion to neutralise the very real threat of dividing the UK?
He continues: “But forced to choose, I would rather deal with the risk of staying in the customs union from 2021, than be forced into a permanent customs union by either opposition MPs or the EU in a matter of weeks”.
But how would this Remainer parliament force the UK into a customs union, given the fact that even Mrs May would regard this as a suicide note for the Conservative party and that the government still has an overall majority?
In the same paper, the former Brexit Secretary David Davis –– David Davis!– doubles down on his disintegration last week as a serious politician when he actually voted for Mrs May’s deal.
He cites the opinion of Lord Pannick QC “that if the UK and EU were unable to reach agreement then the UK would be entitled to withdraw.” But other eminent lawyers have said this opinion, which was based on the belated suggestion that the Vienna Convention would offer a way out of the backstop, doesn’t hold water. Lord Anderson QC and colleagues have said the Vienna convention argument is “plainly wrong” and “adds nothing of value”; Philippe Sands QC has scorned it as “utterly hopeless”; and Martin Howe QC has described it as a “non-starter”.
Davis further chooses to believe the government promise now apparently being made to the DUP – which is rightly concerned that the backstop might force the UK to leave Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market and thus divide it from the rest of the UK – to provide a legislative guarantee that Northern Ireland would never be separated from the rest of the UK.
But what possible weight can that carry when, as the wonderfully consistent Owen Paterson MP writes in the Telegraph:
“…the backstop abandons the Government’s commitment to uphold the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. It is a clear breach of the Belfast Agreement’s Principle of Consent and the requirement to consult the NI Assembly”.
Quite so. Any such “legislative guarantee” would be up against the UK’s contrary treaty obligations under the backstop. Any such dispute would need to be arbitrated. And which body would do that, if not the dreaded and wholly partisan ECJ?
The reason these ludicrous and weak arguments are being trotted out by the faint-hearted Brexiteers is that, spooked by the unprecedented attempt by Remainer MPs (aided by the disgracefully partisan Commons Speaker) to stop Brexit in its tracks, they are falling for Mrs May’s threat that if they don’t vote for her deal Brexit will vanish into the infinite delay which the Remainer MPs will then demand.
The Sunday Times reports leaked advice, circulating in Downing Street, which reads: “‘Once the UK has taken part in the EU elections, there is effectively no limit to the number of extensions of article 50 the UK can ask for or be required to ask for by parliament.’ A senior source said: “‘We could be in the EU forever”.’
This leak is just another cynical scare tactic. For whatever delay MPs may vote for, the British government can only ask the EU to grant it. And all other 27 member states have to agree to such a request for a delay.
Moreover, as has increasingly become apparent, the EU is deeply concerned about a long delay – or indeed, any delay that would mean the UK takes part in May’s EU parliament elections. They rightly fear that British outrage at the EU’s mafia tactics over Brexit would enable Nigel Farage to wreak havoc in the EU parliament by galvanising the election of many more eurosceptic MEPs.
So any delay the EU grants is likely to be only until the May elections.
The bottom line is this. If Mrs May’s deal is passed, the UK remains under EU control and is screwed. If it is not passed, and if the worst did come to the worst and Brexit were kicked into the long grass, the reaction by the electorate to this coup against the people would be so ferocious that, whether in a general election or second referendum, support for Brexit would soar and revenge would be taken against all those MPs who spat in the eye of democracy. So the UK would eventually leave; and the Conservative party, and possibly Labour too, would be destroyed.
The only way to ensure the UK leaves the EU, and to prevent the disintegration of support for the entire political process, is to vote down Mrs May’s unthinkable terms and leave by legal default with no deal.
The Brexiteers’ justifications for throwing in the towel don’t stand up for a moment. The real reason for their collapse is brutally simple. It is cowardice.